Mad Max was an underwhelming game. I feel like it was almost something amazing, but after a few hours it became clear that it wasn’t going to deliver on its conceptual ambitions.

After my initial disappointment, however, I started to enjoy picking it apart, simply because it did a few things differently. Little things that other games don’t always give much attention to. One of those things was its level up system.

The level up system

In Mad Max, you don’t level up from killing individual bad guys or by winning races. You’re given no experience for doing either of those things at all. Instead, you level up by completing challenges. Any challenge can be completed at any time, and is typically something like ‘Kill 5 drivers with the shotgun’ or ‘Destroy 10 vehicles with the side-ram.’

A lot of games have challenges, but they’re usually consigned to side-attraction status. In Mad Max, they’re the key to the level up system, and the most important thing about them is that they’re all different. This is good for two reasons.

It reveals the game

First, the design encourages the player to explore more of what’s on offer in the game. Changing up your play-style and exploring new mechanics is not only incentivised, but part of the game’s structure. If you keep doing the same thing, the level ups will stop, and you’ll have trouble. The solution? Play outside of your area-of-competence and explore previously overlooked mechanics.

In my own play-through, I had come to rely on a trusty tactic early on: blow everything up with the thunderpoon. Past the second part of the map, however, I found myself having trouble taking on even two enemy cars. My complacency led to a lack of level ups, and no longer did thunderpoons reliably destroy everything in my path.

The only solution most games offer for this is the repetitive toil of grinding: repeating a low level task for XP. Thankfully, Mad Max’s solution is the opposite of repetitive; it wants you to expand your play-style. In my case, I found plenty of unfinished challenges connected with mechanics I’d been neglecting. I hadn’t been using the side-ram enough, and my dodging was sub-par. Before the game allowed me to level up, I had to prove that I could integrate these properly into my play-style. My stats and my experience with the game benefited from it.

It reflects real life

Second, it makes sense, because that’s how real life works. You don’t learn by staying in your comfort zone. You can’t learn new chords on the piano by playing the ones you already know. Unfortunately, experience doesn’t stack in real life.

If you level up after killing 5 drivers with the shotgun, you wont get another level up for killing another 5, or even 10 more. You’ve already learned what you can from that experience, and it’s time to challenge yourself by doing something new.

It’s a little touch, to be sure, but I think players appreciate it when games reflect reality just a bit more closely.